Tuesday, April 07, 2009
When I posted after Valentine’s Day about giving shepherd’s pie a try for St. Patrick’s Day, my husband’s cousin Laetitia emailed me from Montreal saying she had a sensational recipe for me to try: shepherd’s pie by way of Au Pied de Cochon. Laetitia is a passionate food-lover and a wonderful cook, who had made a few tweaks to the recipe, so I knew it would be a winner.
I loved, too, that it was from Au Pied de Cochon, a famous Montreal restaurant that I have read all about but not yet tried.
Anthony Bourdain sang the restaurant’s praises calling its food “all things porky, ducky, fatty and wonderful.” Chef Martin Picard has been hailed for his fidelity to local ingredients and innovative takes on classic dishes.
In fact, word initially spread about the restaurant thanks to its luxury poutine. Poutine is a Quebec specialty consisting of French fries topped with melted cheese curds and smothered in gravy. Just thinking about the dish makes me sick to my stomach, but Quebecers seem to love it. It’s their culinary claim to fame, and they’re sticking with it. Don’t even think about disparaging poutine when in Montreal.
Picard updated the “classic” poutine recipe by adding foie gras. Why not, right? If you’re already eating French fries, cheese curds, and gravy what will a little foie hurt?
But of course Au Pied de Cochon is much more than just poutine. The menu is unique, larded with an intriguing combination of offal, fat, and local ingredients. Much of it is mouthwatering: French fries fried in duck fat, foie gras with apples, duck magret in mushroom sauce, and maple syrup pie. And much of it is distressing (at least for someone like me who plays it relatively safe when it comes to food): tripe pizza, tarragon bison tongue, and stuffed pig’s foot with foie gras (actually this one doesn’t sound so bad).
When I read through the shepherd’s pie recipe Laetitia sent I was a little alarmed. Like the foie gras poutine, Au Pied de Cochon’s shepherd’s pie is similarly sinful, taking a “comfort food” dish and all that entails (i.e., more emphasis on comfort and taste than nutrition) and upping the fatty ante even more. Picard replaces the ground meat on the bottom with duck confit (basically a duck leg poached in duck fat). Top the shredded duck with corn cooked with onion, rosemary, two cups of cream, wine, and butter. Cover with mashed potatoes loaded with butter, cream, pecorino and a whole head of roasted garlic. The result is a shepherd’s pie straight from the mind of a culinary genius and a culinary rebel: someone who says to hell with healthy, to hell with low-fat. Someone who is focused on just the dish, on making the best shepherd’s pie possible, and throwing all dietary and other rules out the window.
It certainly fit with the “ducky, fatty, wonderful” theme, but could I really make a dish with that much cream, butter, and even duck confit??
Yes, I could.
(Although I did cut the cream by half.)
And it was sublime. Warm, rich, and delicious. Sweet from the corn and savory from everything else. I have my St. Patrick’s Day recipe -- thanks Laetitia!